Creatures of the deep blue sea have always been an alluring attraction, making aquariums a highly popular destination all over the country. From Amazonian reptiles to mysterious creatures who lie on the ocean floor, these excellent establishments have made a reputation for creating magic with their fish families and exhibit designs. Check out the list and think about a trip to one of the best aquariums in the U.S. on your next student trip.
1. Audubon Nature Institute Aquarium - New Orleans, LA
This gorgeous institution, part of the same campus that includes the Audubon Zoo and Insectarium, was hit hard by the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2003. However, she turned herself around and came back with a force, unveiling fabulous new exhibits, new animal collections, and brilliant animal encounters. Two exhibits in particular stand out among the rest for stylized galleries. Walk through an underwater tunnel to see a sunken Mayan city's ruins, watch as moray eels and lion fish swim among sunken statues, treasure, and coral. There's also the Gulf of Mexico exhibit, a 400,000 gallon salt-water tank featuring a scale replica underwater oil rig covered in barnacles.
2. National Aquarium - Baltimore, MD
One of the largest aquariums in New England, the National Aquarium of Baltimore boasts over 20,000 animals. Shark Alley hosts toothy giants like nurse and sand tiger sharks, largetooth sawfish, and more while the Dolphin Discovery tank is the largest in the aquarium and home to a colony of eight bottlenose dolphins. Visitors adore the Atlantic Coral Reef where you can see over 500 exotic fish including a bonnethead shark, green moray eels, and pokey spotfin porcupinefish. Finally, make a stop by the Living Seashore for an interactive experience like no other. Touch moon snails, horseshoe crabs, Atlantic stingrays and even jellyfish!
3. Georgia Aquarium - Atlanta, GA
The Georgia Aquarium is consistently rated among the absolute best aquariums in the country for their innovative exhibit design and animal families. Over 10 million gallons of salt and freshwater went into creating this enormous Atlanta aquarium, the largest portion of water is devoted to the gargantuan Ocean Voyager exhibit, the only aquarium in North America to house whale sharks. See other marine creatures like Beluga whales, American alligators, cownose rays, bottlenose dolphins, roughly ten species of sharks, harbor seals, and more.
4. Monterey Bay Aquarium - Monterey, CA
Located on the Pacific Coast, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has an advantage of being close to the action of the wild. Their Life on the Bay exhibit is an open view of the ocean and the wild animals that call it home. You can see sea otters, white-sided dolphins, humpback whales, gray whales, and more living free in Monterey Bay. Inside you can meet Giant Pacific octopus, Hawaiian bobtail squid, green sea turtles, and more. Visit one of the world's tallest aquariums at the Kelp Forest, reaching 28 feet in the air or their largest tank featuring a 90 foot wide window at the Open Sea, home to hammerhead sharks and moon jellyfish.
5. Waikiki Aquarium - Honolulu, HA
The second oldest public aquarium in the U.S., the Waikiki Aquarium stands out for their composite habitats combining the natural Hawaiian surroundings with animal experiences, making for beautiful exhibits. The outdoor Hawaiian Monk Seal Habitat harbors this endangered species found only in Hawaii, raising awareness and education for the public while protecting the seals. Other exhibits include Edge of the Reef, an outdoor exhibit that recreates the types of habitats you might find in Hawaii, and the South Pacific Marine Communities exhibits which houses over 4,000 species of exotic fish.
6. Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies - Gatlinburg, TN
Ripley's Aquarium, of Ripley's Believe it or Not fame, is highly interactive while maintaining beautiful exhibits and educational galleries. Ripley's highlights the strange animals and amazing beauty of ocean life with exhibits featuring animals like the weedy scorpionfish, a colorful creature that looks like it's covered in coral. Visit the touchpool at the Discovery Center, see the living cast of Finding Nemo at the Coral Reef exhibit, and even see penguins paint pictures with their feet.
7. Shedd Aquarium - Chicago, IL
Boasting 32,000 animals and a giant living reef, the Shedd Aquarium is billed as one of the world's largest indoor aquariums. Six permanent exhibits cover the globe's water-bound animals from beluga whales to river turtles, otters, and more. Waters of the World includes 80 habitats to cover the world's main ecosystems with animals of the Amazon, African fish, and more. Amazon Rising shows what lies beneath the murky river's surface while the Abbott Oceanarium shows off the intelligent and quirky Pacific white-sided dolphins, performing beluga whales, sea lions, and sea otters.
8. Dallas World Aquarium - Dallas, TX
Open in downtown Dallas since 1992, the Dallas World Aquarium is a fascinating collection of animals, interactive exhibits, and even some non-marine animals. Out of the five major exhibits, the centerpiece has to be the gigantic Mundo Maya exhibit which houses Central American animals from Mayan folklore. In the center of the exhibit is the "Tree of Life" leading to habitats holding fairy penguins, helmeted basilisks, Morelet's crocodile, and more. Other exhibits hold animals like tamarin monkeys, Indo-Pacific fish, tarantulas, giant clams, octopi, and giant anteaters.
9. Oregon Coast Aquarium - Newport, OR
While this Pacific coast aquarium is slightly smaller than the others on this list, Oregon Coast Aquarium cleverly utilizes its surroundings to create a unique experience for all. The Passages of the Deep exhibit allows visitors to walk beneath the waters filled with exotic fish, sharks, and more but that's not all. The tunnel eventually leads into the open ocean so let you see what it's like below the Pacific's surface waters and see fish swim freely in their natural habitat. The seals and sea lions exhibit is also a popular choice for their fabulous shows highlighting the pinnipeds intelligence and skill. Also see turkey vultures, Giant Pacific octopus, sea otters, and explore the outdoor trails that lead into the wild habitats of Oregon.